Mr. Elroy Sprauve Describes His Early Christmas Holidays on St. John
(Compiled by Jan Frey)
Mr. Sprauve was a young St. Johnian attending school at the Bethany School in Pastory in the 1940’s and Charlotte Amalie High School in St. Thomas in the early 1950’s. The entire villages’ holiday celebrations centered around church and school.
There were two teachers for the approximately 50 students attending Bethany School. Mrs. Maud Samuel taught first through fourth grades, and Miss Clarice Thomas was the principal and taught fifth through eighth grades. The school consisted of one large room divided into two by chalkboards hung from the ceiling. Pastory provided a perfect location for a school, because it was peaceful and green and cooler than Cruz Bay. At the time, there was no running water or electricity in the school. The school day had two 30 minutes recesses and an hour lunch break, with meals prepared by a cook. After eating, the students played ball and other games until the afternoon session began
School would close for two weeks during the Christmas-New Year Holidays. Before closing, the Christmas program was presented, with all the children taking part and the entire community attending. People came from Cruz Bay, Bethany, Gifft Hill and Monty. The schoolroom was opened up into one big room by removing the chalkboards and storing them. An inkberry tree was brought in and decorated with little candles and paper decorations made by the children.
Much time was spent preparing the program as poems had to be memorized, songs learned and practiced and a traditional pageant organized and also practiced. After the presentation, Santa would give out the children’s gifts. Earlier, names had been exchanged and the students would give toys, pencils, notebooks and books to each other. The celebration ended with Santa distributing a variety of hard candies, much to the children’s delight as candy was a rare treat.
On Christmas Eve, the Bethany Moravian Church would present its program, with emphasis on the children’s performances of songs, the recitation of poems, and a pageant. The community would dress up and walk to Bethany for the evening. The beloved hard candy was again the treat of the night. The Lutheran Church’s program was held the next night and the same agenda was followed.
After both the Christmas Eve and the Christmas night church gatherings, the women and children would return to their homes to prepare for the men to arrive. The men would carol through the villages and stop at each house for their holiday treats. Traditionally, the ladies would serve salt-cured ham that was boiled and sliced, guavaberry and coconut tarts and guavaberry liqueur. The serenaders would arrive at all hours, but the hostesses were always ready because the men’s singing would alert them. About ten houses were visited in Pastory and ten in Cruz Bay. Coral Bay followed the same tradition on the east end of the island.
St. John followed these holiday mores until the island’s rapid growth in the 1960s. The island then began to change to a commercial community based on tourism and winter visitors. The school-church centered celebrations are being lost.
One other piece of the past was lost when a sign near today’s Post office was removed. It read “No Horse Racing-Entering Town Limits.”